20 Watts


Photos from Desolation Wilderness’ Performance at Spark Art Space by Irina Dvalidze
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Washington dream-poppers Desolation Wilderness played Spark on Wednesday

If you’ve found yourself complaining that Syracuse has no music scene, one little venue is out to prove you wrong.  Just a few blocks down from University Hill — past a few of the sketchiest alleys you’ll ever have the pleasure of avoiding — sits Spark Contemporary Art Space, an art gallery and performance space for both VPA students and touring acts.

Last Wednesday, Sept. 9, Spark welcomed three amazing indie up-and-comers to its dimly lit back room.  Two locals repped the Syracuse scene: The Human, a funky, hippy quartet that know how to rock a pair of tree hugger sandals, and Mandate of Heaven, a foursome that sound like Sonic Youth jamming with Cheap Trick.  20 Watts’ personal favorite, however, was Desolation Wilderness, a barely legal trio from Olympia, Washington.  With their chiming, eerie, introspective vocals and quirky stage presence, these guys looked like they just walked off a Sophia Coppola movie set.  And despite the small “stage” space and minor acoustic glitches, it was a musical evening to remember.

Desolation Wilderness are playing a string of East Coast shows with the likes of Real Estate and The Intelligence; they’ll also be embarking on a European tour in late October.  We reccomend following their highly entertaining and endearingly earnest blog.  Their fourth full-length, New Universe, dropped on K Records early last month.

For more favorites from the Syracuse scene, download Mandate of Heaven’s full discography FREE on Jamendo and check out 20 Watts’ phenomenal photos from the show under the jump!

– Photos by Max Nepstad, copy by Irina Dvalidze and Caitlin Dewey

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Memories and Photos from Siren 2009 by Eric Vilas-Boas
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Frightened Rabbit rabble-rouses at Saturday's Siren Festival

READ: 20 Watts’ exclusive interview with Siren opener Tiny Masters of Today
VIEW: 20 Watts’ festival photo gallery, under the jump

Life doesn’t get much better than listening to free live music on a blazing hot summer’s day while chowing down on some cheap, sub-par hot dogs. To all those who don’t reside in the New York area or just couldn’t make it out to Coney Island on Saturday, let’s just say we’re very sorry you missed out.

Luckily for you, however, we’ve compiled a list of the best bands that graced the stages by the boardwalk this weekend. And when they play in your area, you better not miss them. Highlights of the day ran the gamut from fifteen-year-olds to the veteran ’90s indie-rockers that make up Built to Spill. Two types of shows permeated Siren this year: those driven by gimmicks and those driven by musicianship. The best acts melded the two strains together and struck a balance.

Tiny Masters of Today, made up of fifteen-year-old Ivan and his thirteen-year-old sister Ada (with an unnamed drummer), opened up the day for the audience at Siren.

There wasn’t much of a crowd yet when they started, but considering these kids are much younger than most readers of this blog and played at the same stage and on the same day as Built to Spill and Japandroids, they held their own remarkably well. Ada even went so far as to amicably explain that the “President” referenced in one of their songs was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama. With short song lengths and smatterings of political lyrics, it’s ironic that they played some of the purest punk rock of the day despite being born twenty years after the genre first surfaced.

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Despite the heat, Japandroids rocked out like a coked-up White Stripes

Speaking of Japandroids, if there were any band at Siren with too much pent-up energy, it would be this duo. Playing garage rock like a coked-up, bastardized version of the White Stripes, Japandroids murdered their set, pulled it from the grave, and kicked it in the face like so many of the beach balls floating around the stage and crowd. Japandroids offered a warning before starting, with guitarist Brian King commenting on how much room he had to move around on the stage and how he felt like “the f**kin’ Stones” as a result.

Japandroids played one of the most dynamic, talented sets at Siren, and indeed, seemed to love doing it. When drummer David Prowse wiped his forehead with a towel after 20 minutes of nearly nonstop frenetic drumming, King chastised him for his weakness: “The f**kin’ towel? Really?”

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Editors Pick #140: Best Sets at Siren by caitlindewey
20 Watts picks our favorite sets at Siren

20 Watts picks/predicts the best sets at Coney Island's Siren Festival

As phenomenal as it is to see a bunch of awesome bands together, music festivals do have their drawbacks.  There are crowds, for starters — huge, unpredictable, often inebriated masses, which will crowd you out from the front of the stage, crowd surf at totally inappropriate times, and elbow you in the face when you’re trying to take a photograph (…not that I speak from experience, or anything).  There’s the food, which is always overpriced and almost always inedible, depending on how much you’ve had to drink.  Then there’s the sweltering heat, the sunburn, the tall dude who had to stand RIGHT in front of you, the gaggle of 16-year-olds giggling at the rear.

But the biggest problem of all, by far, is choosing which bands to see when several sets occur at the same, or almost the same, times.

Coney Island’s Siren Festival is kind enough to stagger their sets.  But in case you don’t want to sprint from stage to stage, or (God forbid) take a breather between the hours of 1:00 and 8:00, these are my personal Siren picks.

1:00 — Tiny Masters of Today [Main Stage]

Adolescent duo with serious industry cred splat out bratty punk anthems.  Are they awesome because they’re barely in high school, or because the chorus on “K.I.D.S.” is so fun to jam out to?  I’m not entirely sure, but David Bowie’s called their work “genius.”

2:00 — Micachu & The Shapes [Main Stage]

Unconventional and often inaccessible “pop,” played on customized or homemade instruments.  One part garage, one part glitch, and several parts awesome.

3:00 — Japandroids [Main Stage]

Simple, straightforward, no frills garage rock that could have come straight from the 1990s.  Something that sounds this fun on an album must be really incredible live.

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20 Watts Reviews Wilco (with Yo La Tengo) at Keyspan Park in Brooklyn, 7/13/09 by JohnCassillo
July 16, 2009, 2:46 am
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Wilco confirmed their reputation as America's best live band in Brooklyn

Wilco confirmed their reputation as America's best live band

At what was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, Wilco and Yo La Tengo both tore up Brooklyn’s Keyspan Park throughout a fun and lengthy set that went from 7 p.m to almost 11 p.m. Wilco played 18 songs (19 if you count the crowd’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”), then played another eight combined in the first and second encore, for a grand total of 27.

Among the encore guests were Feist, Grizzly Bear‘s Ed Droste and Yo La Tengo in its entirety. As ridiculous as it may seem, I was actually holding out for a Wilco rendition of “Two Weeks” for a couple minutes, but it never came to be. Continue reading



Photos from Anthony Gonzalez’s WFC Winter Gardens Performance by caitlindewey
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More photos from Anthony Gonzalez's ambient set under the jump

PREVIOUS RIVER TO RIVER COVERAGE: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at South Street Seaport

M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez was about 20 minutes into his Tuesday set at the WFC Winter Gardens when a (rather misplaced) middle-aged woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what instruments “the band” was playing.

In her defense, Gonzalez’s haunting, hovering compositions had a layered quality that could only be termed “orchestral.”  And as he cued swell upon swell of icy, ethereal synth — sustained, hollow ringings, low-register humming, mechanical buzzes — he did indeed give the impression that an entire band was on stage.

But no — if you could get past the vastness of the Winter Gardens and the utter lack of stage lights, you would see only a dude and a couple of laptops.  Not smiling.  Not speaking.  Just plugging away at an eerily-lit synthesizer as images of horses, wrestlers and super-saturated swimmers drifted into each other behind him.

It may have been the cavernous interior of the Winter Gardens, or the gorgeous, haunting footage from video artist Janet Biggs, but either way, Gonzalez’s work has never seemed so vast. 

— Caitlin Dewey

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Photos from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s South Street Seaport Performance by 20watts
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart played a free show at the South Street Seaport yesterday

The Pains played a free show at the South Street Seaport yesterday

Three months ago, 20 Watts told you that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart were one of the top five bands you need to know now.  Man, did we nail it.  If the Brooklynite’s self-titled debut album wasn’t evidence enough, their free show at South Street Seaport last night certainly was: the Pains are, hands-down, one of the best things happening in indie pop these days.

If you missed them last night, you might have a chance to see them at one of their upcoming dates in Chicago, LA or San Francisco.  After that, however, the band’s departing on a second round of European tours and won’t be back in the States until mid-August.

In the mean time, you might want to check out openers Zaza and Ribbons — the former droned out phenomenally haunting, ethereal shoegaze in the tradition of My Bloody Valentine and will release an EP on August 14.  They’re pretty intriguing individuals, too.

Check out more pictures from the show under the jump and on Flickr.

— Caitlin Dewey

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Concert Preview: SU presents…DYLAN by kayzimbo

Tomorrow night at 8pm, there is a Dylan cover night in the Jabberwocky Cafe.  This show is in honor of the release of Dylan’s new album (April 28, via Columbia) titled Together Through Life.  While this event started out months ago as only a figment of my (and Kelly Bertog’s) imagination, it has grown to include almost fifteen Syracuse University artists, free Dylan memorabilia raffles, and a listening party for Dylan’s new album (which we got our hands on legally a week early!).  Our very own web designer and blog guru, Trevor Kiviat, will be performing a song, along with many others:

Sarah Aument
Alex Savoth
Nate Stein
Erica Scarano
Wyatt Wolfram
Aaron Gittleman
Lucas Sacks
Dan DiPasquale
Adam Cohen
Maxx Berkowitz
Clai White
Jason Charles Steklof
Jamian Shapiro
Sabrina Cunnigham

Come check out the talent that Syracuse has to offer.  There will be singers, guitar players, banjo players, and a whole lot more.  Also – I promise you’ll be out in time for flip night.

When: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where: Jabberwocky Cafe, Schine Underground

Time: 8pm

-Kyra Zeller